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Former FBI Agent Says Sex Offender Label is Problematic

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAAY) - What should be done with sex offenders? That's a question child welfare professionals are tackling this week in Huntsville, and a former FBI agent has some very strong views that he's shared with others.

Sex offenders are treated as second-class citizens in American society, and most would say rightly so. To get the designation, they've convicted of a terrible crime, most of them against children. But for those convicted of a sexual crime, no matter what charge or the age of the victim, they all have the same label.

Ken Lanning spent 35 years as a special agent for the FBI. He now trains law enforcement officials across the United States on how to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. But even though he's seen and investigated some of the worst cases in the country, he doesn't like the title of sexual predator.

"The reason I don't like the term is while I agree that they are many are predatory in their behavior," Lanning said. "The label predatory conjures up an evil type of image that they're evil monsters, dirty old men in wrinkled rain coats, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Men prowling around and mean nasty people. And while there are people who fit that, a lot these guys are pillars of the community. They go to church on Sunday and they're nice to their neighbors."

That description would apply former Huntsville Police officer Kenneth Haga, who was convicted two years ago of possession of child pornography. Another example is Rev. Jerry Wayne Love, who was convicted of first-degree sodomy and repeated sexual abuse of three of his adopted children.

But while you can find the names of Love and many other offenders on bulletin boards and sex offender web sites, Lanning said the public shouldn't try to fit them all into the same category. Also, he said that not all people convicted of sex crimes should be required to wear electronic monitoring bracelets, and move 2,000 feet from schools or day cares, under laws like Jessica or Megan's Law.

"What happened to Jessica, what happened to Megan? These were two little girls who were sexually assaulted and murdered. Most child molesters don't abduct their victims, and most don't kill their victims, so why have we passed a law based on the worst possible case and apply to offenders who don't fit in these categories?" he said.

"I'm not against registering sex offenders," Lanning continued. "I'm not against community notification. I just think that we need to do it in a realistic, practical kind of way."

Lanning said it's not possible to put all sex offenders in jail. No one's going to pay for that. But all of them can't also be sent to counseling. He said the key is balance -- a balance that law makers don't want to take the time to look for.

Reporter: Justin McFarland
Web Editor: Dana Franks

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